CARE's response to Cyclone Freddy: When emergencies hit, responding fast is a matter of life and death

Malawi - Cyclone Freddy

06 April 2023


When extreme weather events strike, ensuring impacted communities have access to safe shelter, food and water as quickly as possible is a top priority. But when it comes to mobilising funds fast enough to support the immediate needs of communities affected by catastrophes like Cyclone Freddy – a record-breaking storm which lasted over five weeks and left behind a trail of destruction in Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique – the humanitarian aid system can fall short. When Cyclone Freddy made landfall, CARE International UK was able to quickly mobilise resources to support communities in Madagascar and Malawi through the Start Network, which provides early and rapid funding to ensure people affected by crisis are not left waiting for the help they need.

In Malawi – a country already grappling with ongoing flooding and a cholera outbreak – Cyclone Freddy caused major damage to homes, infrastructure and crops, leaving communities without access to basic necessities such as shelter, health services and clean water. As such, CARE International UK’s response in Malawi has three key focus areas: water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), promoting sexual and reproductive rights and health, and providing emergency shelter support and recovery. As with all CARE programming, the response in Malawi is underpinned by a focus on the needs of women, girls and the most vulnerable.

Helping communities stop the spread of cholera

Hygiene kits in Madagascar - Cyclone Freddy response

Image © CARE: Hygiene kits ready for distribution

The disruption of clean water supply and sanitation facilities in the aftermath of a climate disaster like Cyclone Freddy heightens the risk that deadly, waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid will spread. In Malawi, where a cholera outbreak was first reported in late 2022, cases have skyrocketed since Freddy made its first landfall on 21 February 2023. Providing safe water and improving sanitation conditions is critical to stemming the cholera outbreak: to support this, CARE’s response includes the provision of WASH kits with water purification tablets, soap and hygiene items.

Providing emergency shelter

Rozina in front of her home, Malawi - Cyclone Freddy

Image © Deliwe Mataka/CARE: Rozina sits in front of her home, which was destroyed by Cyclone Freddy

As well as improving WASH facilities, CARE is working to ensure people who have been forced from their homes are provided with safe emergency shelter. With around 7,500 people displaced in Malawi alone, CARE’s shelter response includes the provision of shelter kits with materials such as tarpaulins, ropes and nails, which can be used to construct temporary shelters to ensure people have somewhere adequate to stay while they rebuild their homes and communities.

Ensuring women and girls’ healthcare needs are not forgotten in a crisis

More than 300 healthcare facilities were destroyed by Freddy across Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique, with health services ‘stretched to the limit’ in all three countries. CARE’s response in Malawi will help plug this gap, with a focus on the needs of women and girls. This is important during a crisis, when pre-existing inequalities are exacerbated and the specific healthcare needs of women – such as pre- or post-natal care – can be deprioritised. To counter this, CARE will help provide access to services related to sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence prevention.

CARE International UK will continue working through the Start Network to support communities in Madagascar and Malawi to respond to the fallout from Cyclone Freddy, as well as implementing longer-term programming to strengthen disaster preparedness. However, as the severity and frequency of extreme weather events in Southern Africa increases due to climate change, climate-vulnerable countries like Malawi will continue to pay the price in both lives and livelihoods. More funding is needed ensure countries like Malawi have the resources available to respond and repair the loss and damage caused by climate change.

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